Robotics: Technology Training for Young Minds
During the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Showcase held recently in the public atrium at Sony’s U.S. headquarters in New York City, the Education Update team met with Corrine Doron, senior manager of programs at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. A museum educator by training, Doron has worked to expand the scope of the lab’s educational programming, making them more accessible to New York City students. Doron believes the responsibility of museums and educational exhibits is to be “more than just field-trip destinations.” Museums should directly support classroom learning, and should become more actively integrated into community dialogue about education and education reform; a museum is successful if it helps kids “develop a passion for life-long learning,” she said.
In her role, Doron creates and executes public programs about technology. The Sony Wonder Technology Lab is free, and offers both self-guided and guided tours. The lab, which currently houses more than 20 interactive technology and entertainment exhibits, also allows students to share and showcase their own work. The target age for the museum is 8 to 15, and it sees more than 200,000 visitors per year.
Doron runs public New York City-area programs such as Sci-Tech workshops, two-hour long weekend programs for students aged 8 to 15, and Tech for Tots, a shorter program meant to introduce kids aged 3 to 6 to technology.
The goals of the program are to improve visual literacy and communication skills, as well as to introduce students to the latest forms of technology. The Sony programs emphasize cross-disciplinary learning. Doron discussed how art and technology are increasingly synonymous.
Sony also hosted a FIRST Robotics League and FIRST Lego League showcase. FIRST, founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen, is a competitive engineering design and building organization, with over 3,000 teams in the United States. FIRST Lego is for elementary school students, and FIRST Robotics is for high-school students. Education Update had the opportunity to talk with both FIRST Robotics and FIRST Lego teams, and we were thrilled to hear what they had to say.
Team 395, better known as “2 Train Robotics,” is the FIRST Robotics team from Morris High School in the Bronx. Stan Bellis, who has been coaching the team for seven years, stated that FIRST Robotics is the “best way to get kids hooked on the sciences.” Engaging kids in the sciences is crucial, and the younger, the better; this mindset is a testament to both the success and demand for FIRST Robotics and Lego teams.
Indeed, the work of FIRST is attractive to people from many different backgrounds. Miguel Sperz, who attends Mercy College and also works for the Department of Education, got his start at FIRST Robotics. Weade Williams is a graphic design student at the Art Institute in SoHo and a robotics participant. Teams, which normally have about 10 members, allow for students to become familiar with the basics of the competition material — such as computer programming and “handiwork” — and to become leaders in a specific area.
The yearly registration fee for a FIRST Robotics team is $275; with the cost of individual tournaments, travel, and upgrade kits, the yearly cost per team approaches $5,000. Teams are given the game, or the map of challenges they must complete. FIRST Lego teams are given a large map, on which obstacles are placed, which they must surmount by programming the computerized robot they receive in their kits. Each map has a theme — this year, the theme pertained to parts of the body. In addition to programming their computers to move across the map, teams must research and create a presentation pertaining to the theme. FIRST Robotics teams must design, program and build a robot to meet a seasonal design challenge.
In this time of increasing emphasis on science and technology education, anecdotal and quantitative evidence suggests that FIRST provides a successful model of how community involvement can increase student interest in these areas.
According to Dennis Chan, the coach of a FIRST Lego team comprised of students from P.S. 188 and P.S. 203, whose FIRST team meets in a community center he created to house his FIRST team, cites “hands-on and minds-on” involvement, of mentors as well as students, as what makes FIRST a special sort of environment, one which betters all parties involved.
Sam Alexander, a student at Columbia University who mentors with FIRST, specifically noted that FIRST is a model of “how to use technology to serve the community.” Alexander hopes to continue this service as a teacher: “FIRST is what inspired me to pursue education” as a career, he said. #